Offensive Trade Marks and Cultural Sensitivities


The New Zealand Trade Marks Act 2002 prohibits the registration of offensive trade marks, including the registration of trade marks that contain Maori words and imagery which may be offensive to Maori.


While Maori words and imagery are registrable as trade marks, words and images which are tapu (have a sacred meaning to Maori) should not be associated with something noa (common), which would lift the “tapu” from the person or object. For example, using the image of a tiki (the Maori symbol associated with Hineteiwaiwa, the Maori Goddess of childbirth) on beer (noa), would be offensive.


It is therefore important to research the cultural significance of trade marks containing Maori words or imagery you wish to use, to avoid the business disruption of having to change your trade mark due to its offensive nature.


We’ve seen this recently with beverage giant, Coca-Cola Amatil having to apologise and withdraw marketing material using “THE NAKI”, after their use of NAKI was found to be an offensive and disrespectful shortening of TARANAKI to Taranaki Maori.


To prevent the registration of trade marks which may be offensive, please note an application to register a trade mark that contains Maori words or imagery will be forwarded by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to a Maori Advisory Committee for comment on whether the mark would be offensive to Maori, before it can be accepted for registration.


If you have any questions about offensive trade marks, and the use/registration of Maori words and imagery, please do not hesitate to contact us.